OPINION – Sally Smith
It was very civil, very sedate, very structured.
The Lanark Federation of Agriculture partnered with the Chambers of Commerce from Smiths Falls, Perth and Carleton Place to host an All-Candidates’ Meeting at Beckwith Township offices Wednesday night.
Four candidates faced a crowd of about 120 people – Anita Payne, Green Party of Ontario, Randy Hillier, Progressive Conservative, Ramsey Hart, New Democrat, and Amanda Pulker-Mot, Liberal. Rules laid down at the beginning of the evening stated there would be no bad language, there would be opening and closing remarks, candidates would get two minutes to answer pre-written questions in a 1-2-3-4, then 2-3-4-1 and so-on order.
It started a little after 7 p.m. and finished a little after 9 p.m.
The focus was rural as the Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston riding is rural; candidates answered 13 questions in 120 minutes. Some of the questions were good, some not. Sometimes candidates exceeded their allotted time by a few seconds but were quickly silenced by both the bell and the moderator. Other times candidates spoke under the allotted time.
There was no give and take from the floor, no back or forth, and only once did an audience member speak up, and then only a couple of words,
What did those attending learn about the candidates or about the parties they represented? Not much.
Certainly it was clear that Hillier gave the best sound-bites – and was chastised by the moderator near the beginning of the evening for a certain choice of phrase he used. Responding to a question on hydro and electricity, he first derided the “outrageous” pay increases they’d given themselves and then added as an after-thought “…it’s been a cluster-muck on hydro. Costs have been driven out of this world. There were 250,000 families last year who chronically couldn’t pay their hydro. Those are third-world figures.”
The moderator was not amused. “Cluster blank?” she asked. “No. Cluster-muck,” Hillier responded quickly.
“Cluster-muck is acceptable,” she said acerbically. “Anything other than ‘muck’ would not be acceptable.”
And again, responding to a question on what meaningful plan the Conservatives might have on tackling the debt and moving towards a balanced or surplus budget, he commented it was irresponsible to burden our children or grandchildren. “We can do better. We have to do better or our kids will be in the dark eating cat food in another generation.”
It was also clear that Hart spoke the best. He gave reasoned, thoughtful answers – no bluster or braggadocio attached. Answering the question on tackling debt and moving towards a balanced or surplus budget, he said “we feel we can afford to invest by asking those in the top tier of society to pay a little more, by adding one percent tax to those who make over $250,000 a year and two percent for those making over $300,000. We’d raise the corporate tax rate by one-and-a-half percent, a modest and doable increase to give greater equity and justice, and benefit everyone in the province.”
There was a gentle attack by Hart on Hillier at the question “Will your government insure that all policy regulation and legislation be evaluated against sound science and factual evidence?”
Hart both stood up and spoke up with alacrity: “Mr. Hillier’s leader has a special problem with facts and I experienced this very personally on Friday when Doug Ford stood up in a leader’s debate and dropped my name multiple times suggesting that I had a personal crusade to shut down mines across the country, that I cheered every time a mine closed and people lost their jobs.
“That is a complete fabrication, bordering on slander. It is not fact-based, it is not science-based.”
He concluded with “and so this is the kind of thing we could be dealing with should Mr. Ford become premier.”
Hart again attacked, tongue-in-cheek, to the question “How will you promote programs that encourage the next generation to see opportunity in agricultural food careers.”
He said “The average farmer today is a university trained middle-aged woman…” and he stopped, turned to Hillier, and continued “…no longer someone who looks like Randy.”
The audience laughed. It was the second-to-last question of the evening. People were urged to take cookies as they left.